Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Joan Chen

When Stallone says the word "law," his slack-jawed enunciation turns it into a slurred "lhuw," as in "Yuh buh-truyed da lhuw." He says "lhuw" a lot in this wake-me-when-the-summer's-over futuristic action thriller. His character, you see, is a combination cop, judge and executioner—a job that allows him to wear a disco-ready, Versace-designed, black-and-gold uniform and to smoke bad guys with a gun that responds to verbal commands such as "rapid fire," "armor piercing" and "double whammy."

If all this sounds a mite simpleminded, it is. Judge Dredd is based on a comic book, one that has been popular in Britain for the past 18 years but is only now being published stateside. The movie has a certain wham!-bam! charm for the first third, when its straightforward plotting and jokiness ("This room has been pacified," Stallone grunts after gunning down a bunch of outlaws) seem refreshing—especially after the overloaded, hyperkinetic Batman Forever. But this charm wears thin as Dredd focuses more on its special effects and hardware (a flying motorcycle, robots who kill) than its characters.

As for the performances, they, too, are at the comic book level. Stallone is Stallone, and what you see—rippling muscles and straight-ahead stare—is what you get. Although Assante is venomous fun as the villain, a former colleague of Stallone's turned megalomaniacal killer, neither Lane nor Chen, playing a Stallone ally and an evil scientist respectively, get to do much more than grunt enthusiastically during their climactic catfight. Schneider, as Stallone's comic foil, mugs and rolls his eyes and generally looks as if he's just grateful that someone rescued him from Saturday Night Live. (R)

Karan Ashley, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, David Yost, Paul Freeman

Halfway through this interminable (for anyone over age 8) movie based on the hit kiddie TV show about teenage superheroes, the epiphany hit: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is really a training film. Not a training film about how to be a Power Ranger—though it's clear that to become one you must master balletic martial arts moves, snag a snazzy skintight uniform and get someone to make whiplike sound effects every time you move an arm—but rather a training film for toddlers to indoctrinate them in the bash-'em-and-trash-'em, techno-action basics so that they can one day become teenage connoisseurs of Batman, Terminator and (see above) Judge Dredd.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are, for readers minus a karate-kicking preschooler in the house, six hyper-cute, ethnically diverse adolescents (though the fledgling actors playing them are all 20-ish or older) who can morph at will into uniformed superheroes and who, when it comes to locomotion, show a marked preference for backflips and aerial somersaults. Here the Rangers battle an evil creature named Ivan Ooze (Freeman). He's fresh from a 6,000-year hibernation ("I missed the Black Plague, the Spanish Inquisition and the Brady Bunch reunion," he moans) and seeks to rule the world and turn all parents into zombies.

Morphins brims with scary scenes of the Rangers battling hulking monsters. My 5-year-old companion cowered constantly, covered his eyes and sought reassurance that no one would really, really die. At the end, however, he pronounced himself thrilled with the movie and said that the scene in which ill-tempered dinosaur skeletons "fighted" the Rangers, the very scene during which he had cringed the most, was his favorite. Bring on Arnold. (PG)

Laurel Holloman, Nicole Parker

The overblown, tongue-in-cheek title is something of a miscalculation—not even the world's most lurid tabloid writer would resort to the bizarre syntax of "incredibly true"—but otherwise this effort from writer-director Maria Maggenti is sunny and blessedly sane. Boyish, working-class Laurel Holloman, who is on the verge of flunking out of high school, falls in love with her classmate Nicole Parker, who is black, upper-middle-class and delicately pretty. The movie follows their courtship, which begins tentatively takes root, encounters a series of obstacles from friends and grown-ups, and then takes firmer root. These goings-on are all fairly predictable but played as nonchalant, gentle comedy. There is pain but no real suffering, no permanent emotional scarring. It's a good midsummer movie, light when the air outside is heavy. (R)

>BLADE BOOM

MANY CLAIM TO BE ON THE CUTTING edge of contemporary moviemaking, but the London-based Baptys company has earned the bragging rights. In the past year the 70-year-old, prop-weapon-making firm has supplied swords—some 850 in all, not to mention sundry lances, cudgels, dirks and pikes—for all three of Hollywood's recently released historical saber-rattlers: Rob Roy, the 18th-century Highland fling starring Liam Neeson; Braveheart, Mel Gibson's kilt-or-be-killed Scots epic; and the new Arthurian romance, First Knight, starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery. "We were working seven days a week, 14 hours a day," says weary Baptys manager Richard Hooper. "It stretched us to our limit."

Reality, as in any movie, also got stretched. That's not a medieval-weight steel sword that Gere or Gibson brandishes. "We use aluminum because it's [a third] lighter and safer," confides Dale Clark, who handled the props on First Knight and Rob Roy. While the dulled swords caused no injuries during filming, they "ended up scuffed and bent," he says, "so we had to keep on replacing blades."

All of which made for some staggering demands at times on Baptys workers. For First Knight "you had 150 knights who all needed swords, scabbards and spare blades," Hooper says. Predictably, Hooper's one complaint is as old as Hollywood itself: lack of screen time. "We had to come up with 40 shields two weeks before shooting," he notes. "Then you hardly see the shields at all in the film."

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Tom Gliatto.